Keith Bradley loves his hometown of Bath. The old city of pleasure, with its meandering crescents, that is. Not the faux-Georgian monstrosity of the Southgate shopping centre

Keith Bradley
Keith Bradley

My wonder is the city of Bath, which is my home town and probably the most complete Palladian city in the world. Last year was the 500th anniversary of Andrea Palladio’s birth. Two hundred and fifty years later, a new city for pleasure was built around an ancient spa by Georgian developers. They took the renaissance of Rome and Florence and placed it in the undulating countryside of Bath. The gridded streets are in the valley, with the crescents meandering along the contours of the slopes. It was built with a social purpose in mind, and that gives the architecture meaning. The houses are ordered with the grand living rooms at the front, creating a dialogue with the wide pavemented streets, and the operational parts of the house recessed in the basement – architecture displaying the cultural values of that society, at that time.

The Southgate shopping centre, meanwhile, plunders the historical characteristics of Bath. This reproduction Georgian scheme, which is still under construction, is a facade of Bath stone arcs, pilasters, and cornices fronting the concrete frame of a new shopping centre. It’s a sham. Nearby, in this part of Bath, Georgian architect John Wood had planned a heroic urban square. If built, it would have been the biggest urban space in Europe. Instead, this scheme with its mean streets regresses to the previous medieval pattern of the city. Aldo van Eyck once said: “History, that wonderful body of knowledge, is here to help, not to be spilt.” The Georgians used history whereas Southgate abuses it and, in doing so denigrates this wonderful city. 

Wonder: Architects John Wood the elder and his son John Wood the younger led the major expansion of Bath in the Georgian era in response to the increasing popularity of the town as a spa resort. Their decorative style was heavily influenced by 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, who celebrated his 500th birthday last year. The city became a world heritage site in 1987.

Southgate development
Blunder: The £200m Southgate development was designed by architect Chapman Taylor. The 417,000 ft2 scheme includes shops, housing, entertainment and upgraded transport links. Construction started in 2007 and is due to complete in 2010.